Mark Zuckerberg wanted to use Facebook employees for work on projects for his philanthropic fund, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, but was forced to abandon the idea early last year after opposition from senior executives.
Zuckerberg’s desire for his two companies to “undertake joint projects,” and to allow Facebook employees to work on non-Facebook related projects was discussed during a February 2016 meeting of Facebook’s board of directors, according to court documents from a recent lawsuit between Facebook and a group of public shareholders.
After opposing the idea during the meeting, board member Marc Andreessen later told Zuckerberg in a text message that, “Several of your senior staff think this [entanglement of CZI and Facebook] is a big mistake and wish you would stop but don’t want to challenge you.”
The rare glimpse into the inner-workings of Facebook’s upper ranks comes from a now-dropped lawsuit that opposed the company’s plan to issue a new class of non-voting stock.
At the heart of the lawsuit was The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which Zuckerberg founded with his wife Priscilla Chan in late 2015 as a way to give away 99% of their roughly $US70 billion fortune. The new class of non-voting shares was intended to give Zuckerberg the ability to sell the majority of his stock to fund his philanthropic interests without losing voting control of Facebook. Zuckerberg currently controls roughly 60% of the voting power at Facebook.
Facebook abruptly abandoned the stock restructuring plan last week, on the eve of trial last week, effectively ending the lawsuit and saving Zuckerberg from having to testify in open court.
Zuckerberg still plans to pour up to $US12 billion of his Facebook stock over the next 18 months into the philanthropic fund, which is operated independently from Facebook with its own staff.
But the court brief by Facebook’s lawyers, which was recently unsealed, makes clear the extent to which Zuckerberg hoped to combine the resources of Facebook and CZI. The unorthodox arrangement would likely have raised eyebrows among Facebook’s public shareholders.
“The board discussed Zuckerberg’s suggestion that Facebook and CZI should undertake joint projects, and in particular, that Facebook employees should be permitted to work on CZI projects,” the brief says, in regards to a February 2016 meeting.
“Andreessen strongly disagreed with that suggestion and expressed the view that the two organisations should remain separate,” the filing reads.
After the meeting, Andreessen elaborated to Zuckerberg via private text message that several members of Facebook’s “senior staff” thought his proposed “entanglement” of The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Facebook was a “big mistake.”
Andreessen sent the following text message to Zuckerberg about the meeting:
“1. All our feedback is entirely intended to protect you and the company. We love the intent. 2. You should know that the reality warping that I brought up has already started. Several of your senior staff think this [entanglement of CZI and Facebook] is a big mistake and wish you would stop but don’t want to challenge you. That said, I love the goals :). And I would be thrilled if Facebook proper pursued more long term science and tech efforts internally including health and education.”
A representative for Andreessen didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story. Facebook declined to comment.
Last December, the lawsuit’s discovery process surfaced controversial messages between Zuckerberg and Andreessen, who the plaintiffs accused of surreptitiously coaching Zuckerberg through a negotiation process with a special committee to win board approval for the stock change.
Another revelation from the discovery process was that Zuckerberg has seriously considered holding some form of public office. Facebook’s stock reclassification proposal included a clause that would have let Zuckerberg serve indefinitely in government while still maintaining control of the company.